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Going Home Again by Dennis Bock
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Going Home Again

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Going Home Again by Dennis Bock
Paperback $15.95
May 06, 2014 | ISBN 9781400096107

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  • $15.95

    May 06, 2014 | ISBN 9781400096107

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  • Aug 13, 2013 | ISBN 9780385349697

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“With a poet’s precision, Dennis Bock limns the inner landscape of a man in crisis, using elegant language to chart the lonely, least-articulated corners of the human heart. . . . From the very first page, one feels the sure hand of a master at work; this is a novel of secrets and lies, of betrayal and murder, a searing emotional portrait that deepens and intensifies to the point of breaking. But Bock’s patient confidence as a storyteller, and his light touch, ensure that the novel resists melodrama, even as it refuses to look away. Going Home Again is a graceful lament, an eloquent novel about what can be lost, and what regained: a true testament to the enduring passions of being alive.” —Jury Citation for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist

“Hard to put down. . . . Sad yet hopeful, brisk yet thoughtful, reflecting Bock’s generous talents as a storywriter.” —The Toronto Star
“A tense, riveting, beautifully layered novel, Going Home Again is an exquisite story of a complex and troubled family. Dennis Bock is a superb writer.” —Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo

“An intimate, controlled examination of traditional and current attempts at defining exactly what home is. . . . It feels good to have Dennis Bock in our corner.” —Anniston Star

“Masculine. Wistful. Romantic. . . . [Bock] write[s] so romantically about the very real and ordinary concerns of middle age.” —Montreal Gazette

“[A] beautiful and multi-layered novel. . . . The natural, understated elegance of Bock’s prose quickly becomes quite addictive.” —Winnipeg Free Press

“Excellent, and sensitively written. Going Home Again is a story bound up in complex emotions and subtle character development, sad and yet hopeful with its haunting reminder that we are damned or redeemed by our passions.” —Linden MacIntyre, Giller Prize-winning author of The Bishop’s Man and Why Men Lie

“Finely crafted, disarmingly casual prose that quietly penetrates the reader’s mind and heart.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

Author Q&A

A conversation with Dennis Bock

Q: Was there a particular event or idea that inspired GOING HOME AGAIN?

A: I never start writing a book with a clear focus on what I’m going to end up with. Writing for me is a process of discovering the story as I’m pulled into it. Same goes for character and theme. No idea until I’m sitting on top of it. What I tend to do is start small—usually with a voice—and watch the thing grow before my eyes. Sometimes it doesn’t grow or move in any interesting direction. That’s why I tend to write many drafts, and often discard. More often than not an idea fails to develop, a character withers, a story goes nowhere. That’s when I trash it and go looking for something  else. It can be a frustrating and time-consuming process, but when I finally hit on a character that bears scrutiny and finds his way into story that sustains interest, that’s when I know I’m onto something. The artistic process affords no guarantees. Hit and miss all the way.

Q: The book’s epigraph comes from John Banville: “Move on, move on, as we are directed to do at the scene of an accident, or a crime.” How does this tie into the book?

A: There are a few crimes of the heart in my novel, not to mention a couple of literal crimes. In some manner or other, Charlie’s connected to all of them. As a man looking at the death of his marriage, he’s taken some hard knocks over the past couple of years. He’s wounded and staring into what might be a bleak future. The Banville quote is a bit of advice I thought he could use.

Q: Charlie, the protagonist in GOING HOME AGAIN, is influenced by many strong characters, including his estranged wife, daughter, ex-girlfriend, and brother. How does Charlie’s relationship with one character help us to understand his relationship with another?

A: Charlie’s a pretty consistent and honest sort. He doesn’t treat people differently according to what they can or can’t do for him. If we learn anything, it’s that. He’s genuine in his interactions and relationships. All the more interesting, then, when he resorts to extreme measures.

Q: Charlie travels the world, managing the language academies he establishes in various cities. The novel is set primarily in Toronto and Madrid—what do these two cities mean to him and how do they affect who he becomes?

A: Toronto and Madrid serve as counterpoints in the novel. In both cases they’re cities to be escaped from and to escape to. He leaves Toronto as a young man eager to discover the world. As a city he was sent to after his parents died, it represents dislocation and loss. Following his university days, Madrid provides him a second chance. It’s the place where he’ll transform himself from the ironic hero of his own life to the romantic hero. How could it be otherwise? He’ll find love here and, in the end, retreat to the place here he started.

Q: There are so many complex, lovable yet flawed characters in this book. Are there any characters you are particularly fond of, or had an especially good (or difficult) time writing about? Do any of your characters remind you of yourself?

A: I identify strongly with Charlie. Most of us have experienced the sort of emotional loss he deals with in the novel. I admire his courage and trust his need to express his anger. He is, essentially, a decent man, severely tested as his personal life disintegrates before his eyes. I feel sympathy and respect for him, but not pity. Pity you reserve for those who cannot help themselves. In this most challenging year Charlie is nothing if not self-reliant, searching, and actively engaged in sounding out the fates of his own life. I’d have to say that I’m particularly fond of him, though Ava, his daughter, comes a close second.

Q: Charlie and his brother Nate have a fragile relationship, complicated by loyalty, rivalry, and revenge. In spite of his many flaws (and the two significant crimes he ultimately commits), do you feel a certain sympathy for Nate? Is it possible to completely disentangle oneself from a sibling, in spite of how drastically our moral convictions might differ from those of a brother or sister?

A: Sympathy, yes. Maybe that’s surprising. I don’t think Nate enjoys being who he is. His character is his fate. He’s trapped within the confines of his failings, and one of those failings is the eternal struggle to prove himself in his brother’s eyes. Why, I have no idea. Some weird stew of admiration, envy, competitive spirit, and lust fuels Nate’s actions, and there’s nothing Charlie can do to understand where his brother’s coming from. You might reasonably be expected to cut someone like that out of your life for good; you might argue that his brother’s actions and moral failings warrant a complete rupture, and Charlie’s sorely tempted. But the same blood runs in their veins, and blood, like the idea of home, always calls you back to where you began.

Q: GOING HOME AGAIN shifts seamlessly between past and present, building up towards a devastating revelation, in which Charlie learns the truth about something that happened many years ago. He thinks, “that world of our youth, so long a source of strength for me, was gone.” What do we learn from Charlie about the relationship between truth and happiness?

A: Truth sticks around longer than happiness does, and where truth might be a bitter pill to swallow, as it is for Charlie at this point in his life, it’s at least an opening onto the future. You don’t need truth to be happy. We walk around with small, self-created fictions that help get us through our day. But happiness, which in my mind is a far bigger fish than simply being happy, depends in large measure on how honest you want to be with yourself, and with other people. Charlie doesn’t hide from the truth, but he does carefully select those bits of the past he chooses to return to, all the while steeling himself with convenient fantasies of a rosy future as he prepares for the end of his marriage. 

Q: For many of the couples in GOING HOME AGAIN, even when they break up, their relationship never really ends, especially when they’ve had children together. How can we reconcile the permanence of relationships, even after they’re broken off?

A: The past is never really past, right? An ended relationship stays with us in the same way, even after we’ve moved on to the next partner. It’s constant—perhaps buried and less urgent—but there it is. For Charlie, the passage of time helps him correct the imperfections of the past. Nostalgia is a powerful drug. It provides a kinder and more forgiving vessel in which we navigate the painful memories of our failed loves. Charlie is a very smart man, but he is also a romantic. Maybe most of us are when it comes to remembering first loves. He knows his wasn’t all that easy, for example—that it’s marked by tragedy—but the allure is there, and he returns to it time and again, if only in his thoughts, in the intervening years before meeting her again two decades after those heady, youthful days.

Q: Charlie loves his daughter, Ava, tremendously, yet she struggles to forgive him for moving away. When a parent and child are separated by such distance, how does their relationship suffer or grow as a result?

A: In Charlie’s case, his physical separation from his daughter highlights the selfishness of his desire to start anew. His need to leave Madrid is nothing less than an accusing finger pointing straight back at him. He doesn’t love his daughter any more or less, but he loves her more painfully. Her absence is a grinding anguish he carries with him. Perhaps it helps him understand better what his priorities are.

Q: Ava is a master of riddles, and the book’s title, GOING HOME AGAIN, is a bit of a riddle itself. What does “home” mean to Charlie?

A: For generations, leaving home was an economic or political necessity. My city, Toronto, is full of individuals and families who had to move there, but didn’t necessarily want to. The same is true of most cities across North America. You stay home and your life ends, literally or figuratively. Tough as it is, the decision is clear. Get out. That’s the first, and typical, immigrant. 

Then there are those who leave home just because they can, because they’ve got some wanderlust buried in their heart that needs to be taken out for a long walk. That was my case when I went over to Spain after I graduated. I went simply because I could, not because I had to. I kicked around that country knowing full-well that there was nothing holding me back from getting on a plane and going home again. I ended up staying five years. That sort of freedom of choice presents a very different set of problems from those faced by the traditional immigrant. The economic and political realities back home for the Somali guy holed up in a Detroit neighbourhood are as real as the cold hard floor under his feet. Living abroad because you choose to is more an intellectual puzzle than a socio-economic one. But the nostalgia, the pull you feel, is every bit as powerful, at least it was for me. Every day you wake and ask yourself why the hell you don’t just pick up and get back to where you came from. There’s an emotional brinksmanship that goes on in the heart of those who make the decision to put down roots elsewhere when in fact they could simply leave, and that brinksmanship is something that Charlie becomes more and more aware of as he straddles both sides of the Atlantic. He’s in the rare position where he’s homesick for two places, not one—two cities, two cultures, two identities. It’s great territory to explore in a novel. Too many homes, too many commitments, too much yearning to leave, and to arrive.

Erica Hinsley / 212-572-2018


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